The web has revolutionized nearly every aspect of human endeavor. The cliché goes that you can do everything from diagnosing medical aliments to investigating your genealogy while sitting at home in your underwear. This is equally true for entrepreneurs, who can perform virtually all of their business activities online.
Using the web can save considerable time and money in launching a new enterprise by providing information not previously or readily available. A good example is the would-be inventor who has created an idea for a product that is sure to make millions.
The internet can help both the novice and seasoned inventor deal with a potential roadblock before too much time and effort is invested. Has someone else already come up with the same or a similar idea? The answer is a patent search of the U.S. Patent Office, either online or in person.
A patentability search is conducted by examining published patents that relate to your own invention to figure out whether your idea has already been patented. You can also see similar inventions, allowing you to improve and refine your own invention without infringing on someone else's patent. And you can do all this before you have spent many hours and thousands of dollars on an idea that you can't patent.
The best and most thorough searches are still performed in person at the library of the USPTO in Arlington, Virginia. For the convenience of the public, the USPTO maintains libraries in major cities around the country, where you can identify patents that sound similar to your idea and examine the patents in hard copy form or on microfilm.
You can also access U.S. patent applications online. Start at uspto.gov/patft. Next, under the heading Related USPTO Services, click on Tools to Help Searching by Patent Classification. You can now start searching. Patent searches may also be done at google.com/patents and at a number of other free sites.
While internet patent searching is a valuable tool, it may be limited by your experience or by the content of some databases. Once your idea passes the preliminary patent search, you may want to hire a professional patent searcher. Some are licensed to practice by the USPTO, which is preferable though more expensive.